Monthly Archives: October 2010

Paper no longer financially tied to Scripps Networks

It’s great news for Knoxville that Scripps Networks Interactive is moving its world headquarters to town. The company has been a major presence in the city since its beginnings with the creation of HGTV. At that time, Scripps Networks was part of the E.W. Scripps Co., the company that owns the News Sentinel, The Commerical Appeal in Memphis and many other newspapers and local television stations.
A little over two years ago, however, the networks were spun off as a separate company. So today, the News Sentinel and Scripps Networks are children born of the same corporate parent, but we’re no longer related financially.
scripps1_t607.jpgScripps Networks Interactive has done very well, by the way. It’s stock, listed as SNI, is at a record high, and it’s network portfolio continues to grow. It acquired the Travel Channel and launched the Cooking Channel in 2009. In May, CEO Ken Lowe was in town for the ribbon-cutting of a $30 million expansion of the headquarters on Sherrill Boulevard.
The company really is global. It has bought a lifestyles network in India and is developing a television production operation there. It plans to export content from there to South Africa, Great Britain and the Middle East. The “interactive” part of the name refers to extensive Internet operations, which include comparison shopping sites BizRate and Shopzilla.

Storify story draws top traffic

“Curation” has been a buzzword in journalism the past couple of years. It refers to the process of assembling, or curating, content on a single subject as a service to readers. From a business-strategy standpoint, the idea is to draw readers to your own site because they know it’s a good place to find out about information from others.
dooleyama08_mp_13951_t300.jpgNow there’s a nifty new tool that makes curation easier. It’s called Storify, and it let’s an editor quickly assemble a “story” by doing a search of Web and social media sources and dragging-and-dropping the links to form a curated whole.
Want an example? Our multimedia guru Jack Lail created a Storify story on Derek Dooley’s comments likening the Vols to the Germans on D-Day. The effort ended up as the most-visited “story” on our website yesterday and attracted more than 200 comments.
One of the comments was “…so this is the state of sports reporting today huh…!” No, it’s not sports reporting, but it is an additional offering a news website can provide to visitors hungry for information.

NPR misfired in firing Juan Williams

Juan-Williams-006.jpgOften commenters on News Sentinel websites complain that they are being “censored” and their rights of free speech being violated when their postings are deleted.
They’re not. and other News Sentinel websites are owned by a corporation in the private sector, namely the E.W. Scripps Co., and Scripps has every right to allow or disallow anything it wants from its properties. The right to free speech doesn’t mean a right to force someone else to disseminate your speech.
The case of Juan Williams and NPR is different. NPR is a government-supported entity. When it fired Williams for something he said, it was, in effect, acting as a government censor, and infringing on his right of free speech.

How did that “flying witch” photo work?

If you’re like me, you were wondering how the flying witch in today’s Reader’s Eye photo actually worked. The witch is a model airplane that, as the photo shows, is particularly effective at night. To get a better sense of how it flies, here’s a video of it being flown in daylight.
I love our Reader’s Eye feature, which every Monday presents a photograph taken by a local amateur. There are some unbelievably talented photographers out there. witch102510reader_t607.jpg

Political activity by journalists not allowed

Recently, the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News Sentinel, issued a reminder to all newsroom employees that the company ethics policy does not let them:
* Participate in fund-raising or other activities enhancing a candidate,
* Make contributions to politicians,
* Wear clothing supporting a cause, or
* Have bumper stickers backing candidates or political positions.
Media organizations tend to take such restrictions seriously. Earlier this month, NPR told staff members they should not attend events being organized by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The Comedy Central team is holding a “Rally to Restore Sanity” and a “March to Keep Fear Alive” on Oct. 30 in Washington. “Their rallies will be perceived as political by many,” an NPR memo said. “As such, they are off limits.”
The Washington Post told its staff that those rallies, like the one organized by Fox News’ Glenn Beck, are political and journalists must not participate. “We mean that Post newsroom employees cannot in any way put themselves in a position that could be construed as supporting (or opposing) that cause. That means no T-shirts, buttons, marching, chanting, etc. This guideline does not prohibit Post newsroom employees from observing — that is, watching and listening from the sidelines.”
News people accept political neutering as part of the job, but it can cause conflicts with family members. My darlings have at times expressed interest in putting political bumper stickers on their cars. Go ahead, I’ve said, but then I can’t drive those cars. So far, they’ve refrained.
duncan5_crowd.jpgLast week, one of our reporters who covers a non-government beat asked if the policy meant she couldn’t take her grandfather to the Duncan Family BBQ. Yup, I told her, it does. Although the congressman is expected to be re-elected easily, he is, nonetheless, in the midst of a campaign, and the barbecue must be seen as a political event.

Did open process hurt UT search?

Jim Murphy, vice chairman of the UT Board of Trustees and chair of the presidential search committee, says in a column in the Tennessean that the transparency of the search limited the depth of the pool of candidates.
murphy49683.jpg“The open records laws in Ten­nessee are arguably more strin­gent than in any other state. We are required by law to have a very struc­tured process that requires total pub­lic dis­clo­sure through­out. We rec­og­nize that and read­ily work within that, but it does have an impact.
“Quite sim­ply, it dis­cour­ages many highly qual­i­fied can­di­dates — minor­ity and non-minority alike — who under­stand­ably don’t want their cur­rent boss to know they are look­ing and who don’t want to take the risk of being rejected publicly. I believe there are qual­i­fied indi­vid­u­als who could not pur­sue the job.”
I’ve never heard that Tennessee’s open records laws were the most stringent in the nation. In fact, a few years ago, a study ranked the state 44th in openness, though there have been improvements to the law since then.
But Murphy’s point is valid. Surely some candidates who would have thrown their names in a secret search did not want to get involved in a public search.
It’s a dilemma. The problem with the argument for secrecy, though, is that the only way to guarantee a candidate no risk of public rejection is to conduct the process entirely in secret then anoint a sole survivor. That’s what happened with John Shumaker, and look how that turned out.
At least when the new president is picked tomorrow, he will go into the job with the mandate of a public process behind him.

Vines’ removal from Campfield race routine

State Rep. Stacey Campfield has raised questions about why we no longer are using Georgiana Vines to cover his campaign for state Senate.
election07_sy_t607.jpgVines called last week and notified Metro Editor John North that a man she was dating had donated $250 to the campaign of Randy Walker, Campfield’s opponent. North immediately recommended to me and Managing Editor Tom Chester that Vines no longer provide coverage of the race, and we agreed.
The occurrence was not unusual. Several times each year, a journalist finds that a family member or close associate has a role in a story he or she is covering or editing. Examples range from a daughter being involved in an environmental lawsuit to a wife being a member of a club to parents belonging to a church. Staff members are expected to disclose any such connections, then editors decide if assignments should be changed to avoid conflicts or appearances of conflicts of interest. Sometimes political campaigns are involved, and in those cases we routinely reassign the staff member.
Vines, a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, retired after a long and respected career with the News Sentinel and the E.W. Scripps Co. She now writes columns and some stories for the newspaper on a freelance basis. I am comfortable that her notification to us was prompt and appropriate, and our response was routine.
Campfield believes that the newspaper’s coverage of him has been unfair and biased. Most recently, he has objected to statements in a column by Pam Strickland. We have been looking into his objections and plan to run a correction in tomorrow’s paper on factual errors. Additionally, we have offered him the opportunity to publish a comparable guest column rebutting Strickland. He is considering the offer.

Commenters made ‘Sweet 15’ connection

Thanks to our commenters — especially TerryFrank — for pointing out the connection between the embezzlement charges against Leslie Janous and the notorious “Sweet 15′ birthday party Leslie Gibbs put on for her daughter a few years ago.
Because of the difference in names, we initially missed the connection. But commenters quickly pointed it out, resulting in today’s story.
Our Sweet 15 story was one of the most controversial we have published in recent years. Many readers objected to our extensive coverage, arguing that it indicated approval for the six-figure celebration. Others argued that the story merely reported on an event in the community and the outrage should not have been directed at the messenger.
My Oct. 2, 2006, blog entry “Is a birthday party news?” still holds the record for attracting comments to this blog, and the reaction prompted me to write a column explaining the newspaper’s decision to publish the story. The latest news shows how some stories never die, they just keep unfolding.

Timing of Haslam-Harold’s story unfortunate

We’ve gotten some criticism over the timing of our Sunday story by Josh Flory about Mayor Bill Haslam serving as nonexecutive board chairman of Harold’s during the retailer’s decline to bankruptcy.
Wrote one commenter: “Great job KNS. Nice how you report on this after it doesn’t matter. Your advocacy is duly noted.”
Ideally, the information would have come out earlier in the campaign to allow a full airing of the issue. However, I’m not sure what advantage the timing provides to either campaign. On one hand, as this writer indicates, the information may be too late to be a factor in the race. On the other hand, the information arises just as people are going to the poll, when it might have the greatest effect.
In any event, we published the information as soon as we learned about it and could assemble a complete report, which took about a week.

Trial Twittering hits The New York Times


The New York Times reports that a high-profile Connecticut case is becoming a watershed in the use of Twitter to cover trials. A half a dozen journalists are sending a steady stream of dispatches, 140 characters at a time.
The story mentions, too, that a court reporter in Knoxville helped pioneer the technique. That would be Jamie Satterfield, the News Sentinel’s ace court reporter, who has been pumping Tweets

out of Knox County courtrooms since the start of the Christian-Newsom trials.